A Prayer for My Daughter

by William Butler Yeats
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What does the poet pray for in "A Prayer for My Daughter"?

The poet prays "In a Prayer for my Daughter" that his daughter will be reasonably beautiful and have a secure, innocent, and well-ordered life rooted in marriage, home, and traditional values.

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Yeats wrote a poem of longing for stability for his infant daughter in the aftermath of World War I, a time in which the world seemed entirely unsettled. This is a backward-looking poem, dreaming of a more ordered and traditional world, perhaps one that has existed only in the imagination.

Yeats's speaker prays that his daughter be beautiful, but not have so much beauty that she is turned away from kindness and loyalty. He prays that she primarily become "courteous," meaning kind, giving, and thoughtful, and notes that many men have been won over to a less beautiful woman by these traits. He prays that she keeps her thoughts to herself and avoids starting quarrels. He wishes that she would remain rooted in a place that is "dear" to her.

Although he lives in a world in which people seem to be increasingly dominated by hatred, the speaker hopes his daughter can avoid that trait. He especially condemns what he calls "intellectual" hatred in a woman and prays that his daughter, instead, have a "quiet nature" and a "radical innocence."

The speaker envisions his daughter marrying into a family ruled by tradition and old-fashioned virtues, "where all's accustomed, ceremonious." "Innocence and beauty," he states, flourish in the context of this kind of ordered life.

The poem can be difficult to read in today's post-feminist world because of its emphasis on the importance of beauty over intellect, innocence, and submissive virtues as all-important in a woman, and its assumption that a woman's chief destiny is marriage. However, it emerges out of a longing for security in a world that seemed to have gone out of control.

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